Imagine getting arrested for just having chocolate, or oregano or even a certain brand of soap. That’s what is happening to people around the country.
Thousands of police departments use field drug test kits. But there’s a problem – the tests can be wrong. A man from Wyandotte found that out the hard way.
Tony Goulet: “We go to Canada a lot to pray and to visit…”
Tony Goulet is a proud Native-American. He and a friend were heading to Walpole Island in Canada for a prayer ceremony when agents at the border searched their car.
Tony Goulet: “…sometimes we’ll take our ceremonial prayer items with us…”
Among Tony’s prayer items was this pipe mixture made of willow bark, tobacco and other herbs. Tony and his friend planned to smoke it as part of a religious ritual. But federal agents seized it.
Tony Goulet: “…two agents came out, took us out of the car, cuffed us right there on the spot.”
The feds used a field drug test – like this—to analyze the pipe mix. The results: it contained marijuana.
Tony Goulet: “I said, impossible.”
Customs turned Tony over to the Marine City Police. They also tested the pipe mix and once again, the field test showed it was positive for marijuana.
Tony Goulet: “…I was told just confess, just say what it is, it will be easier for you in front of a judge.”
But Tony did not waver and after six hours he was finally released. The pipe mix was sent to the Michigan State Police crime lab. The results came back negative for marijuana or any illegal substance. Though Tony and his friend were innocent, under drug seizure laws, police impounded Tony’s car and took the $198 they had on them.
Tony even had to pay $100 to get his SUV back.
Tony and his friend are not the only ones to face this kind of trouble with drug field tests.
Ron and Nadine Obadia are from Ontario and Ron talked to Action News by phone.
When they tried to cross into the U.S. for vacation with their one-year old, Canadian agents arrested them for allegedly having hash. All the couple had was chocolate, but they were handcuffed and separated from each other and their son.
Ron Obadia: I had to have faith that there was justice and that we’d end up back together.”
The chocolate was tested at a crime lab and it came back negative for hash. That’s little consolation for the Obadia’s who spent $20,000 defending themselves.
Punk rocker Don Bolles made news for having some Dr. Bronner’s soap that tested positive for the date rape drug, GHB .
Don Bolles: “…the van was searched the soap was found it was allegedly tested, it was said to GHB, I was arrested.”
Bolles was jailed for more than three days. Once again, the crime lab determined the drug field test was wrong. But the NIK Public Safety tests and the NarcoPouch tests are used by police departments across the country.
John Kelly: “They don’t work…”
John Kelly is a forensic drug expert and wrote the report, “False Positives Equal False Justice.” He says all kinds of herbs, chocolate and other things give false positives for marijuana.
Action News tested some of these items, including oregano, thyme and different kinds of chocolate. Oregano, thyme, Hersey’s chocolate, a Butterfinger candy bar, M&M’s and a dark chocolate all tested positive for marijuana.
So why do police agencies use these tests when they give wrong results?
Allen Miller, spokesman for Safariland, which makes the drug tests says the company’s own testing has shown the kits are about 95% accurate. Asked what Miller makes of the criticism that the tests are not accurate and result in false positives, he said:
Allen Miller: “I can’t disagree with that…there are other things in nature that occur, either naturally or made by man, that may or many—that may cause the test to kick off.”
But a test can kick off and get innocent people like Tony or the Obadia’s in trouble with the law.
Allen Miller: “They are simply a field tool to provide information to the officer to either seize, detain, arrest, whatever and have something tested at the laboratory. They are not conclusive.”
Miller stresses the tests must always be double checked at a crime lab. That’s what the Marine City Police Department does. But when the test for Tony Goulet’s tobacco came back negative for marijuana, police chief Don Tillery was shocked.
Don Tillerly: “I’ve used them hundreds of times in the past. There was a point in my career when I worked narcotics with the state police, and we used them on a daily basis almost and I’ve never had a false positive before.”
The chief says he stands by how his department used the field drug test. And until there’s a better one, Tillery says his department will keep using them.
As for tony — he just wants the tests to be made fool–proof or banned.
Tony: “I just don’t want to see this happen to anybody else.”
Some forensic experts have found that if you put Tylenol PM into a drug kit, it will test positive for cocaine. When Action News did the test with Tylenol PM into a drug kit, it did not react. But if you would like to watch video of the forensics expert getting false positives from all kinds of every-day items click on the related link.
Also, for more information on false positive field drug tests, you can check out forensic expert John Kelly’s new book, “How to Obtain a Pretrial Clearance of Marijuana Charges or an Acquittal or an Exoneration.”
– Article from WXYZ-TV, ABC News.